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Los Angeles Fights for Transportation Dollars

LA Sentinel, News Report, Staff Posted: Oct 23, 2009

A battle over which transportation projects should be prioritized in the Los Angeles area's bid for federal funding heated up today, with congressional representatives saying the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to choose projects with more of a regional impact.

The Metro board of directors -- at the strong urging of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- had agreed to give top priority to the Westside Subway Extension, along with a light-rail link through downtown in a bid for funding under the federal "New Starts" program.

But the county Board of Supervisors and 14 congressional representatives sent a letter to the MTA saying those projects were unlikely to draw funding in less than three years, leaving the county without its share of transportation dollars in the interim.

"The MTA long-range plan does not currently have a strategy to access much-needed federal funds for several years," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D- Pasadena.

Schiff and his colleagues asked the agency to include the Foothill and Eastside extensions of the Gold Line and the Crenshaw-South Bay Transit Corridor in its funding priority list.

"If the board does not include these projects, we leave hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table that will be directed elsewhere in the country," Schiff said. "At a time when our unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, the MTA Board cannot afford to overlook the economic imperative to include these projects in its long-range plan."

Schiff and 13 other congressional representatives -- including Reps. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, and Grace Napolitano, D- Santa Fe Springs -- signed off on a letter to the MTA board, urging the panel to reconsider priorities included in its long-range transportation plan, which is up for a vote on Thursday.

"Regardless of where you live in Southern California, traffic congestion and air quality impact your quality of life," Dreier said in a statement.

"In order to combat gridlock and its effects, we must pursue effective transit alternatives and prioritize our entire region's needs," said Dreier. "It's our hope that the MTA board will join us in moving forward to help secure the federal resources needed to create jobs and invest in an infrastructure that works for all Southern Californians."

The letter from the congressional representatives stated that Metro staff had estimated Los Angeles County should receive $200 million federal funding annually for transportation projects.

The county plans to spend $40 billion over 30 years on local transportation projects under Measure R.

The Board of Supervisors, acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley- Thomas, joined the congressional delegates in urging the MTA Board to develop a more inclusive, regional strategy.

"In its current form, the MTA long-range plan is short-sighted," said Supervisor Michael Antonovich. "Without these projects, the MTA stands to lose hundreds of millions of federal transportation dollars."

Antonovich and the other county supervisors are members of the MTA board and Supervisor Don Knabe is the first vice chair of the board. Villaraigosa is the second vice chair.

"We agree that it is imperative that we have a robust, long-term federal strategy that brings as much federal funding for L.A. County's transportation needs as possible," Ara Najarian, the MTA board chair, said in a statement. "We were pleased that the Metro Board of Directors united in moving both the Regional Connector Transit Corridor project and the Westside Subway Extension forward in an attempt to get our fair share of New Starts funding."

Najarian and Metro CEO Art Leahy were in Washington, D.C., seeking Southern California's share of the $8.9 billion in available federal stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects, a separate pool of federal funds.

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